Black filmmaker Jeff Legitime powerfully documented Miami’s George Floyd protests

Police barricading the entrance to I-95 (photo courtesy of Jeff Legitime)

Ever since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, people have been protesting almost daily across the nation. Millions of all ages, races and ethnic groups have marched for justice and to hold police accountable for their actions. 

Jeff Legitime, a 26-year-old Miami filmmaker, is documenting the protest.

Legitime was born and raised in Miami, hailing from a Haitian background. He began attending William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in 2008. The school has a large Black and Latino population. 

In his senior year, he attended his first protest following the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of 28-year-old George Zimmerman. That was 2012. Legitime says it felt personal to him because Trayvon was from Miami-Dade and was also a Black man in America. 

Because Legitime was young, he didn’t completely understand the meaning of the protest. “I just knew I was mad,” he says.

He was upset about social injustice and wanted to fight police brutality. Students from many Miami-Dade high schools joined the protest, including some from Miami Central, which is located in front of Turner Tech. 

“The youth is the most powerful voice when it comes to making change,” Legitime says. “We are the future.” 

After graduation, he attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (Florida A&M) in Tallahassee and studied broadcast journalism. There he attended Black Lives Matter demonstrations to protest the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others at the hands of the police. 

After graduating from Florida A&M in 2016, he worked for a couple of years in media production before returning to Miami. He says he became a filmmaker because he wanted to share his Black experiences.  

Jeff Legitime, 26, filmmaker at Florida Film House and production coordinator at the Urban Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Legitime)

Legitime is currently working at Florida Film House, a production studio in Overtown. He also is the production coordinator at the Urban Film Festival (UFF), a three-day event that focuses on educating, exposing and providing distribution opportunities for up-and-coming Black filmmakers. The festival, which started in 2015, is held in predominantly Black-populated areas such as Overtown and Little Haiti.

On May 31, Legitime finished a day of editing and shooting a short film when he heard about a Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality in Overtown.

He drove from Wynwood to Overtown to see what was going on. He grabbed a camera a friend had left in his car and began documenting the protest.

It was just a week after the day of Floyd’s killing and everyone was tense. Police cars were torched, several stores were looted and more than 100 people were arrested. 

Legitime says, “This was a historical event and everyone was coming together. It was powerful and moving.” 

The video that he produced is shot in a mix of black and white and sometimes color. The black and white parallels old films of the 1950s and ’60s civil rights movement. It’s mixed with color footage in a way that makes the parallel clear. 

At the beginning of the video, protesters raise their signs as they march through the streets of Overtown and up Biscayne Boulevard. Police officers barricade the streets and some officers ride bicycles following the protesters.  

One masked protester wears a membership shirt that reads, “The Circle of Brotherhood.” It is an organization located in North Miami that was developed in 2013. Their motto of “Black Men Solving Their Own Community Problems.”

In the film, he says, “We are called to be out here to help curb some of this damage going on in this city.”  

 

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As the video progresses, exhausted protesters chant, “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace.” A woman with dreads leads the chants with a powerful chant: “Not my child.” The crowd responds: “I can’t breathe.” A couple of signs carried by protesters that are held up read, “Being black is not a threat,” “Who can’t hear must feel,” and “Black Lives Matter, Defund The Police.”  

In the middle of the video, a woman with a grey hat and sunglasses stresses, “If nobody is doing anything, nobody is making any changes. You have to come out and say something. You can’t just sit behind your TVs.” 

Toward the end of the video, one dread-headed and bearded protester says, “One thing COVID has been able to do is let people see our cry, let people see this has been happening for such a long time.”

Legitime spent hours documenting and then editing the video before posting it on Instagram, where it has drawn thousands of views. He says, “I had no feelings, I wasn’t angry. It just kept feeling tiring that we have to march again because we aren’t seeing the results. We’re going through this again and again and again.” 

Legitime agrees with the protesters. “My thoughts are that police brutality is wrong and that it’s been going on for too long. Too many Black Americans and Latinos are killed or receive the worst treatment from racist police.”  

Legitime attended another protest on June 5. It began on NW 24th St. and 2nd Ave. in Wynwood. Protesters walked north to the entrance of I-95, where officers stood waiting.

After a day of work, Legitime walked outside that afternoon. He remembers how peaceful and passionate everyone was. So he took out his phone and began recording. 

The 3 minute and 39-second Instagram video that he produced began with black-and-white footage from Local 10 news coverage of the protesters marching through Wynwood carrying  signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for George Floyd” and “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”   

 

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At one point in the video, protester and 23-year-old gamer Rose Ittner, who has family in Minnesota, is seen with ombre hair and a bandana around her neck. With great passion, she says: “Numbers count. We all have to get together, we all have to make a ruckus. If we don’t, this is costing them money. 

“This is popping people’s bubbles that are privileged every day. They can walk outside every day and not think about it. We’re waking them up, we’re ruining their day because our day has to be ruined by the color of our skin.”

Toward the end of the video, protesters continue to march and chant: “Say her name!” followed by “Breonna Taylor” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” Some have chanted in their vehicle while honking in solidarity. 

Protests have died down, but the sentiment is still strong. COVID-19 has helped slow things, particularly in South Florida — which is ironic because African Americans are the group most affected by the virus.

Legitime reminds people not to just focus on the looting but the overall message of Black Lives Matter. “I hope these are the last protests and change will come this time,” he says. “Justice will be served and people will be held accountable.”  

Racquel Lewis is a Miami native who enjoys botany, comedy, theatre, and culinary arts. She is currently an assistant editor at South Florida Media Network while also attending Florida International University as a Broadcast Media major. Her goals are to have her own show and to get an Emmy.